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Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant talk ‘Cemetery Junction’

Cemetery Junction
20 August 2010

We attended the Q+A at the Soho Hotel in London last night (19th August) for the DVD release of Cemetery Junction with directors Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. The film starring Ricky Gervais, Ralph Fiennes, and Emily Watson tells the story of three blue collar friends in 1970’s England, drinking, fighting and chasing girls yet dreaming of escape.  Ricky and Stephen were in great spirits, joking about phallic microphones and who was older than who, which set the tone for a funny and nostalgia themed interview.



Q: Of all the stories and subjects you could have covered what was the appeal of this particular one?

Ricky: I suppose we’ve always wanted to do something more autobiographical, I suppose everything we’ve done so far is semi autobiographical, working in an office, working my way up in TV for extras, but there’s nothing as close to you as your formative years, and we wanted to write about our childhood’s. Also we wanted to write a love letter to England, we also wanted to leave that veil of irony behind, which broke us with ‘The Office’, where the bad jokes were funny, the crapness was funny and the awkwardness was funny, whereas this was more straight down the line. We follow these kids and it is a glorious summer, and youth is to be celebrated with all its foibles and stupidity so we wanted to come clean a little bit.

Stephen: I think we wanted to be more sincere, there is still traces of what we do comedy wise, and similar themes that we’re interested in, like where you work and the people you surround yourself with and family and friends and where you’re going in life.

Q: Cemetery Junction is a classic coming of age story, what were the films that influenced you when you were growing up and inspired you as writers?

Ricky: The sort of films that influenced this film really, the kitchen sink dramas and Saturday night Sunday morning, and Kez and Kathy come home and people like Mike Lee and Jack Rosenthal really influenced me, but I think the things that probably influenced me more and the film, were more American things like ‘Rebel Without A Cause’, and cool hand Luke and ‘Saturday Night Fever’, that’s the cross over. Also the apartment has been an influence on everything I’ve done and everything we’ve done, such a sweet clever comedy about real people, I’ve always been fascinated by realism, don’t get me wrong I love fantasy, like ‘Rocky’, but nothing excites me quite like that ordinary tale.

Stephen: I suppose it’s taking small lives and making them feel more epic, like ‘Saturday Night Fever’, you think of it as being quite kitsch now but actually its quite a gritty film, essentially he’s a loser, he’s the coolest guy in his neighbourhood.

Ricky: But no one’s laughing at him, no one’s saying, “oh yeah, I get it, he works in a paint shop and lives for the weekends”, they’re saying,” F**k me, I wish I could dance like that and that’s what we tried to do with Tom, who plays Bruce. We didn’t want it to be another one of those films that shows Britain as being a bit depressing; we wanted it to be a bit more glorious. We wanted to evoke those possibly false memories of everyday being sunny and brilliant and fun and that’s how I remember my childhood.
If we cast 1000 actors and they’re 23, half of them will be Mr. Darcy one day and the other half will be going “You f**king slag” and so we had to look to our rock stars like Richard Ashcroft and Liam Gallagher, because they’re the ones that rule the world, that’s where we got cool. We wanted to make this film like an album with a great soundtrack. Music has always been both our first loves.

Stephen: This country has been really good at making rock stars and they’re unashamedly good at being confident and showing off, but in our films we always feel a bit embarrassed to be like that, we feel like we need to be self conscious and make things seem gloomier than they are, but that wasn’t my experience growing up, nightclubs seemed glorious to me, imagine going in a nightclub when you’re that young. The toughest kid in my school carried a knife.

Ricky: A butter knife though!

Stephen: That sort of world seemed really cool to me. Even films like the John Hughes films influenced me, the American films where they were supposed to be losers from the wrong side of the tracks but they had big cars and gardens and they lived in quaint towns, but there’s something romantic about that.

Ricky: We did take liberties though, we don’t apologise for making everything a bit sunnier and a bit prettier and having a bit of a black and white cast divide, because its a story and you’ve only got an hour and a half to take them on this journey.

Q: What was the appeal of setting this film in this precise moment (1973) given that in real life you were significantly younger than the protagonists of the movie?

Stephen: I think it was this idea of romanticising the past. There was this period around this time after The Beetles and the hope of the 60’s had gone, and Britain was in a wilderness.
Ricky can I tell you the reason I think we set it then. I asked Elton John if I could use Saturday’s alright for fighting at the beginning of a film and he said yeah. So I told Ricky and he said ok let’s set it in 1973.



Q: Most of Britain’s finest actors have been asked to appear in Harry Potter Films, did either of you two get asked to appear in the films?

Ricky: The answer is no, I’ve never even seen the films or read the books; I thought it was a kids thing isn’t it? I’ve never seen it so I can’t judge it.

Stephen: I’d like to think I could play a 35 year old Harry Potter.

Ricky: I think I’d play it safe and play a 45 year old. I lie about my age all the time so people think I look young, I say I’m 58.

Q: One of the finest moments of the film is where one of the characters announces he wants to go traveling and his Mum retorts by saying there are places in Reading he hasn’t seen, is this an attitude that prevailed through your childhood, how did you overcome that and how did your family and friends react to the film.

Ricky: That was a direct quote from my Mum when I told her I wanted to go to France. I didn’t necessarily feel that I had anything to overcome; I always knew I would move away, it would be like a biological clock in me when I reached 18. It seemed inevitable. I didn’t feel trapped in a blue collar environment; I always felt I was in a nest growing up but that one day I would fly away. I had a great childhood, I loved school, but somehow I always knew that something would come next. I always felt that everything would be ok. As for my family, they don’t see me as an actor, they don’t see me as anything, they just think I’m the chubby tw*t I’ve always been.

Q: What’s your next project and are you going to be co-directing again?

Ricky: We’re writing and directing a show called ‘Life’s Too Short’ with Warwick Davis and we’re appearing in that as ourselves. We’re also finishing off the second season of the ‘Ricky Gervais Show’, which is appearing on HBO after Christmas and then Channel Four. We do want to make another film too.

Stephen: I’ve got a lot of modeling commitments.

Ricky:  Maybe we could make a film of Life’s Too Short?

Stephen: Well let’s see how the series goes first, lets not get carried away.

Ricky: Lets have it ready in case it’s a success, always plan for success.



Cemetery Junction Film Page